British supermarket Tesco slammed with $7 billion equal pay lawsuit

REUTERS  Toby Melville  File

United Kingdom supermarket giant Tesco could be facing a £4 billion claim over a pay disparity between employees at its stores and distribution centres.

As many as 20,000 Tesco shopfloor staff could be affected by the claim, which it is estimated could cost the company up to £4bn based on each worker receiving up to £20,000 in back pay over a period of at least six years. This could lead to a disparity of more than £5,000 per year.

The Guardian reported yesterday that law firm Leigh Day had launched legal action on behalf of almost 100 shop assistants who say that they earn as much as £3 an hour less than male warehouse workers in similar roles. A victory against Britain's biggest private sector employer could set a precedent for scores of other retailers, sparking demands for billions of pounds more in back pay.

It is thought the underpayment could apply to around 200,000 workers, who might be owed £20,000 each.

A spokesman responded: "We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received".

Leigh Day said that more than 1,000 Tesco employees had approached them.

Leigh Day said it was also now representing over 20,000 shop-floor workers in equal pay claims against fellow Big 4 retailers Sainsbury's and Asda, who both face similar legal challenges regarding discrepancies in pay between the male-dominated distribution centres and the mainly female-staffed stores.

Lawyers say the hourly wage of its female store staff proved less than their male counterparts, despite engaging in similar work.

Tesco said they work hard to ensure all staff are paid "fairly and equally".

"In the week where we have marked the 100-year anniversary since women began to get the vote, the time has come for companies and public organisations to have a long hard look at themselves, to see the inequality which is still deeply entrenched in their organisations".

Another two of Britain's "Big Four" retailers, Asda and Sainsbury's, are involved in similar cases.

"According to the latest Annual Report from Tesco the remuneration package for the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Financial Officer totalled £7.3m, yet figures show that Tesco employees are having to claim millions of pounds in working tax credits, paying people fairly benefits the whole of society".

They also say Tesco carefully consider any changes to pay in partnership with the Usdaw union and work to help colleagues reach their potential.

"The law has been there since 1984 - you can compare with a different job".

Crowley Woodford, employment partner at law firm Ashurst, said of the action: "The Tesco employees are trying to capitalise on the success of the Asda ruling which found that female shop floor workers could compare their pay to predominately male distribution workers".

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